California is known for its great weather, relaxed and friendly vibe and its wonderful natural parks and resources. One of California’s unique draws is its Redwood Forests, home to the tallest trees on earth! California Redwoods can be up to 2,000 years old, 12-16 feet in diameter, and up to 378 feet tall. Since they grow only in California they are a must-see attraction. If you want an immersive Redwood experience you should plan your trip around a visit to Redwood National Park which is located about 325 north of San Francisco or drive the Avenue of the Giants, 31 miles of historic highway 101 in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, that boasts some of the most spectacular and ancient redwoods on earth. However if your time is short just a few miles north of San Francisco are two fantastic and easily accessible Redwood sanctuaries, Muir Woods National Monument and Armstrong Woods State Reserve.
Muir Woods is one of the most popular redwood parks in the country. It is located in Mill Valley only 16 miles from San Francisco. The journey from San Francisco takes you over the Golden Gate (make sure to stop at the awesome view point just over the bridge) and into the town of Mill Valley. Follow the signs through town to Muir Woods Road where you will be treated to an exciting winding mountain drive with great views down into the valley. Be aware there is VERY limited parking at the Monument. You will likely need to park further down the road and walk. However if you time your visit for the early morning or the end of the day you might get lucky (like we did on our visit!).
The Monument offers three walking loop options using the main trail, 30 minutes, 60 minutes and 90 minutes respectively. The trail is handicap accessible and basically entirely flat so even the longest trail will leave you only wanting more.
The beauty of Muir Woods is undeniable but its proximity to San Francisco does make it the most crowded and touristy of all the Redwood parks so be prepared to share your experience with many other travelers. The rangers make an effort to encourage travelers to be quiet and not to disrupt the stillness of the woods but with so many visitors this is nigh impossible. For almost guaranteed peace and solitude it’s worth the extra hour drive to visit Armstrong Woods.
LUNCH tip: Stop by Cafe Del Soul for a fresh and healthy lunch before or after your visit! This place is the very definition of Californian.
Armstrong Woods is located in Guerneville, CA about 25 west of Route 101 in some beautiful California country. There is plenty in this area to fill a day so plan to leave early from San Francisco to allow plenty of time to enjoy the Woods and the great small towns in this area. Once in Guerneville turn right onto Armstrong Woods Rd to reach the park. There is plenty of parking right outside the entrance and the park is free for those that walk in. If you wish to drive your car into the park and see the trees that way you can for a mere $8.
Photo Tip: Try the Panorama setting on your Iphone or Ipad to get top to bottom Redwood photos!
Within a few hundred yards of the entrance you are likely to find yourself completely alone in the silence and beauty of the Redwood Forest. The Pioneer Nature Trail is again almost completely flat and is handicap-accessible (paved). The trail is about 1.5 miles round-trip and hits all the must-see sights in the park including the Tallest Tree (more than 310 high!!). To extend the walk take the Discovery Trail to the Colonel Armstrong Tree, the Armstrong Nature Trail to the Icicle Tree, and then rejoin the Pioneer Nature Trail.
It’s good to keep in mind that there is basically no bad time of day to visit Redwood parks nor any type of weather that should discourage you from going. The high canopy protects from bright sun, heat, rain, wind, and keeps the the forest floor cool and relatively dry. Plus it might mean fewer visitors and even more park all to yourself.
After your visit
Once you’ve fully soaked in the majesty of these great trees be sure to check out some of the other wonderful spots in this area. Start with one of these great scenic drives and see where you end up!